Will Obama fulfill his promise to Poland?
When President Barack Obama stops in Poland on May 27 during his visit to Europe next week, the Poles and their friends in Congress will be watching closely to see if the president will fulfill his pledge to make progress on their most valued issue — Poland’s drive to join the State Department’s Visa Waiver ...
When President Barack Obama stops in Poland on May 27 during his visit to Europe next week, the Poles and their friends in Congress will be watching closely to see if the president will fulfill his pledge to make progress on their most valued issue — Poland’s drive to join the State Department’s Visa Waiver Program.
Poland, which is the only member of the 25-country "Schengen area" whose citizens are not able to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa in advance, has been petitioning the administration to let it in the program for a long time. After neighboring countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, and Latvia entered the program, the Poles finally got a pledge from the Obama administration that it would work with Congress to make it happen.
"I am going to make this a priority," Obama said on Dec. 8, sitting alongside Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski. "And I want to solve this issue before very long. My expectation is, is that this problem will be solved during my presidency."
But now, more than five months later, Poland’s advocates on Capitol Hill say they’ve seen no movement from the administration on the issue and are calling on Obama to announce his plan to get it done when he arrives in Poland.
"It’s a campaign promise, it’s the number one issue right now in U.S.-Polish relations. The president should come through on his campaign commitment to Polish-Americans that he was going to do this," Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) said in a Friday interview with The Cable.
"This would also help repair damaged relations with Poland, especially after the disastrous missile defense decision announced on the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Poland [in 2009]," Kirk said. That was when the administration decided to alter plans to station interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of a different approach.
Kirk took over Senate leadership on this issue following the retirement of Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), who actually offered to trade his vote on the New START treaty with Russia for the Polish visa waiver program entry last year. Kirk hails from Illinois, which has the largest Polish population outside of Poland, he brags.
On April 26, Kirk sent a letter to Obama to announce his support for the congressional legislation that would pave the way for Poland to enter the program. Other lawmakers who signed the letter were the bill’s spokesperson Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Mike Quigley (D – IL), Daniel Lipinski (D-IL), Jan Schakowsky (D -IL), and Brian Higgins (D -NY).
On a conference call Friday morning, The Cable asked Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes what progress the president would announce on this issue when he gets to Poland.
"We believe we’ve made some progress and we’ll have more to say, I think, about this when we’re in Poland. The president will be able to specifically outline the steps that we’ve taken and the roadmap that we see. We’re following through on our commitment to be responsive to Polish concerns," said Rhodes.
We pressed Rhodes on Obama’s promise to get it done "during my presidency," which could mean 2012 or 2016, depending on which side of the aisle you talk to. But Rhodes didn’t have any specifics.
"[The president’s] working to follow through on that precise commitment that you referenced, and we’ll be discussing this in Warsaw and have more to say there," he said.
"It’s a tremendous opportunity for the president on the 27th. And if he flubs it, then he flubs it," said Kirk. "We’ll see."
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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